Elastic Fibers Incorporate and Integrate Electrodes for Robotic Function


Robotic arms in a car plant. / Photo by: Nataliya Hora via 123RF


A new elastic fiber has been developed by researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne that reforms smart clothing. The material has high sensitivity to pressure and can withstand a high deformation rate.

Elastic Fibers with Sensors

Sensors are the components that power smart technology while elastic materials are what make the application possible in various items. In the recent study at EPFL, a team of researchers developed fibers that are super-elastic and have a high degree of performance, practical for smart clothing and medical implants.

The elastic fibers can detect slight pressures and strains with up to 500 percent of resistance to deformation, making it an efficient material for bending, folding, and stretching. In addition, the fibers welcome the incorporation of electrodes to convert them into robotic sensors.

The fibers were created using the standard method for manufacturing optical fiber called thermal drawing process. The team started with the production of a macroscopic preform of different fiber components. Then, they arranged them carefully using a specially designed 3D pattern. Next, they heated the preform and stretched it out to create fibers with a diameter of a few hundreds of microns. The preform was able to be stretched lengthwise and crosswise.

For the incorporation of robotic abilities, the researchers worked with Dr. Oliver Brock at the University of Berlin. Together, they integrated the elastic fibers in robotic fingers and set it up as an artificial nerve system. When activated, the robotic fingers were able to receive tactile information through the electrodes whenever it touched something.

“Our technology could be used to develop a touch keyboard that’s integrated directly into clothing, for instance,” said Fabien Sorin of the School of Engineering at EPFL.

Aside from its use in several potential applications, the elastic fibers can be manufactured in large-scale production by adjusting certain configurations with the thermal drawing process.